As the first semester gallops to a close and excitement in camp is at an all-time high, I have given up hope of getting any of the group to produce a worthy blog in between discussing holiday plans, mucking out tents to a liveable standard for inspection, and checking travel documents are all present and correct. As I was lucky (?) enough to join them at the Iron Will Eco Challenge over the last week, I will do the reporting!
Although the start of the week was on an academic and sedentary theme, the rest was most certainly not. Once again the extremes of the Quest Experience are highlighted. Mrs Chivasa worked with the group on Monday on an introduction to the Business world and kicked off their Business acumen with a very lively and interesting presentation. I realised she had the boys ‘sussed’ when I heard her talking about profit margins and marketing ploys when selling beer!
The rest of the week was spent in preparation for Iron Will. A small group of lads who were not taking part in Iron used their time well by sand bagging the dam wall in front of Quest, raising the water level by a few inches.
Bikes loaded, tents packed, GPS’ charged up and a lot of nervous anticipation later, we headed off to the beautiful setting of Camp Dwala in the Matopos. Quest entered 8 teams and during the evenings briefing we met up with the rest of the participants who ranged from the hardened veterans to the first timers, like most of us. The ‘horror’ of what was in store over the next few days, and the realisation of what we were about to put ourselves through was very quickly pushed to the back of our minds as supper was announced. We ate like kings thanks to Lee McNabs catering staff, and this was to become a highlight of every day and became the inspiration to make it back to camp during some of the seemingly never ending cycling and hiking tracks. “Only 5 hours to dinner time… we can do this” was heard echoing across a granite dwala on more than one occasion!
Day 1 got underway with the characteristic whooping and cheering from the irrepressible Dan Isemonger… we thought he’d get tired and shut up, he didn’t… A cycle, followed by a swift shoe, hat and backpack change and off on a hike to a stunningly beautiful waterfall where we camped the night. One group didn’t quite get the urgency of the exercise and wandered into camp as night fell and Mr.Randle returned from teetering precariously on the side of a huge granite dwala where he’d been checking he had signal to phone emergency “search and rescue” services. The excessive rains this year not only made for magnificent cascading waterfalls to cool off in, but also some extremely thick riverine bush to battle through. One of our team, Tim, celebrated his 21st Birthday that day. There was no champagne or party, but as I headed to bed and passed a group of the boys, lying on their backs on the warm granite rock, at the edge of the moonlit waterfall, looking at the stars and listening to the plunging water, mingling with the calls of the nightjars, I thought he may just remember this birthday more than others. I hope so.
The following morning we all hiked back to camp (because there wasn’t another option really), but once there a few individuals decided that the cool dark corners of their tent were perfect places to hide and ‘opted out’ of the afternoon cycle, confident that they had made the point of throwing in the towel….. However, they didn’t account for the persuasive powers of the rest of the Quest team who managed to persuade all but one to ‘saddle up and ride out’ the next morning.
Personally, if I had known what Day 3 had in store, the cool dark corners of my tent may well have also been occupied! Approximately 65km of cycling over enormous whalebacks, crossing rivers, squelching through bogs, negotiating lantana choked footpaths, climbing into caves, bouncing over granite outcrops and finally limping into camp….we were done. Along the way we came across many of the teams, the most notable I remember being the one with Albert as the ‘pack horse’.. carrying everyone’s kit in one rucksack and attempting to negotiate the above obstacles in cleats!!! Needless to say that I saw him lying on his side under his bicycle more often than the conventional view of sitting aboard it! Also caught on ‘go-pro’ on the same day we had a spectacular somersault over the handlebars by our very own Australian stuntman James Dey, and an incident with a young goat causing a welcome distraction for one of our teams who decided it needed befriending! Such was the challenge of the terrain we crossed that some teams came in after 10hrs on the bike. It was a long day. Thank goodness for a cold beer and dinner!!
A healthy rivalry had occurred during the last few days between a team of facilitators “What the ladies reQuested” and an intake team ‘Questback Mountain”…… yes, there is no accounting for the depths the boys humour has sunk to. Despite their team names these two teams were extremely competitive and finished in the top half of the line-up every day. The final day was the decider as the 2 teams were neck and neck. An orienteering course of 16-22km (depending how lost you got) faced us. Climbing dwalas, jumping into rivers, fording waterfalls, exploring caves and desciphering cave paintings was par for the course and we all finished safe and sound within the allocated time, and much to the Questors delight ‘Questback’ had beaten ‘ReQuested’ by a length. I am sure it was all part of a cunning plan. Cold beers, a huge braai lunch and prize giving rounded off the 4 days of competition and as we all sat up on the rocks watching the full moon rise over the Matopos we could all reflect on the life enriching experiences we had had. The value of teamwork when one member gave up his bike to a more competitive team who had broken theirs; encouraging your team mates when they are starting to weaken; the kindness of the local villagers who offered their limited supplies of oranges and guavas to exhausted cyclists; the selflessness of administering first aid to another team when close to the finish and timing was vital; humour and positive attitude when you are tired and hungry. In all these aspects, the Quest teams stepped up to the mark, and gave us good reason to be proud of them.
Getting back to campus, bikes off loaded, filthy laundry sorted and a good night’s rest has put everyone in fine spirits to start the first break. We have also managed to finish off our book and film reviews and interviews with a marked improvement in public speaking skills. A good term finished with a highly productive and unforgettable week.